The Modernising Criminal Justice Conference 2020 – which took place virtually on November 12th – provided the perfect platform for policy leaders and justice professionals to come together to network online, share their current experiences in light of COVID-19, and to discuss what needs to be done to deliver digital transformation and reduce reoffending.
As proceedings got underway, the eyes of 500+ delegates were firmly fixed upon Lucy Frazer QC, Minster of State, Ministry of Justice, as she delivered an insightful keynote addressing where the government is currently investing in the justice system.
Talking to the (virtual) audience, Ms Frazer explained that whilst it is important for the prison system to provide “justice for crimes committed, punishing those for the wrongdoing and hurt they’ve caused”, it is equally vital to work with “those who have offended to prevent them from doing it again”.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged on how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones – and since I’ve been Prisons Minister, I have been struck by the commitment right from the very top of government to law and order, and the importance of turning around the lives of those who commit crimes,” she said.
Ms Frazer highlighted three particular areas of focus where “significant investment” had, or was currently, being made:
- Physical infrastructure
- Security tools
- The tools that make a difference in turning around people’s lives
Additional capacity in prisons
Starting with prisons, the Minister explained the government had already committed to an outlay of £2.5bn to provide 10,000 additional spaces in our prisons, which will be delivered over the next six years.
“These places will be decent, safe and secure. This isn’t just building places to house prisoners; we recognise that the prison’s design is an important part of rehabilitation. Some of the traditional security elements will be designed out – such as bars to the glazing. The process and facilities for the security checks will be designed for efficiency and will mirror other experiences the public may have, such as passing through security at airports.”
Ms Frazer said that new prisons will include smaller houseblocks and non-galleried landings, holding 60 prisoners each, which would allow residents to benefit from “a greater sense of community”. Delegates heard how it is anticipated that this investment will facilitate a regime where staff are “empowered to meet the needs of prisoners in a safe, secure, decent and rehabilitative environment”.
A secure environment for prisoners and staff
Creating and maintaining a safe and secure environment within prisons is high on the agenda for the government, delegates heard during the virtual summit.
“Keeping prisons secure isn’t just about preventing escapes, it is increasingly and predominantly about preventing criminal acts that undermine safety and rehabilitation in prisons. We know that drugs and associated debt are key drivers of violence, self-harm and criminal activity in our prisons,” remarked the Minister.
Ms Frazer referenced the National Prison Drug Strategy, which was published in 2019, and how it focuses on three strands of work to tackle drugs in prisons:
- Restricting the supply
- Reducing demand
- Recovery from drugs and substance misuse
She explained how a £100m investment (previously announced in August 2019) was being used to reduce crime in prisons, including drug supply, whilst also funding a security programme that seeks to reduce conveyance of illicit items by installing enhanced gate security and x-ray body scanners at 50 sites across the UK.
“The next generation scanners create instant images from inside the human body. The images produced by the scanner provide a level of detail that has never before been seen in the prison service. The scanners reveal internally concealed contraband, such as drugs, mobile phones and weapons,” Ms Frazer revealed.
As part of that investment, staff will be equipped with innovative mobile phone technology that detects and blocks devices, enabling staff to retrieve them. The programme also increases investment into specific intelligence operations to cut crime, including strengthening staff resilience by enhancing the Counter Corruption Unit and delivering new security training.
Delegates also heard that prisons must also “provide rehabilitation in order to break the cycle of reoffending”, which currently costs society about £18bn pounds a year. In the year ending September 2019, 80% of offenders receiving a caution or conviction had at least one previous caution or conviction, it was revealed.
Ms Frazer said that offenders face “significant barriers to securing suitable accommodation, finding a job and accessing treatment on release”, and that this government is “committed to reducing reoffending by ensuring that all offenders have the tools they need to turn their backs on crime”.
Schemes highlighted by the Minister to reduce reoffending included:
- A £6m accommodation pilot scheme running in Leeds, Bristol and Pentonville, which has already enrolled 323 individuals, who will each receive up to two years of “wrap around support” upon their release to address underlying needs
- Recruiting ex-offenders into the civil service and encouraging employers to take on ex-prisoners through a new specialist service that brokers partnerships between employers in England and Wales
- Increased opportunities being made available to those in prison to gain experience in real workplaces for release on temporary licence
- Creation of a prisoner education service focused on work-based training and skills
- Changes proposed to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will reduce the length of time that offences need to be disclosed for most jobs - improving the chances of accessing employment
- A number of initiatives to help drug users, including a drug recovery prison model at HMP Holme House, which aims to create a collaborative whole prison approach to tackle supply and demand for illicit drugs, and recovery from drug misuse, both within prison and in the community
- A £20m investment into the Prison Leavers Project, a new cross-government innovation programme that will pilot new ways to break the cycle of reoffending and improve social inclusion by bringing together government, local leaders, the third and private sectors
- Increasing the probation budget by 17% to over 1.1bn, helping to fund additional staff and improvements in training, estates and digital services
Ms Frazer rounded off her presentation by praising her colleagues who are currently working within prisons: “I recognise that at the moment all prison staff are working in very challenging circumstances as the pandemic continues to rage across the country and I want to pay tribute to that”. She explained “tremendous work has been going on in our prisons”, including the “support that has been offered to those in our care and custody”.
If you would like to watch the keynote presentation in full, you can do so here. You can view the agenda for Modernising Criminal Justice 2021 - which will be taking place on 23rd June - or reserve your place for the event now.
Jessica Kimbell, GovNet